Fresh bread, rice porridge, green plantains, or muesli. How will you start your day?
Did you know that there are some places where they actually sit down for breakfast? Where it’s not eaten on the run, on the go, or on anything but the table? And that some countries’ breakfasts are based on centuries of fine-tuning the grains, fruits, dairy, and yes, even meat, that are readily available on ample farmland and not on what marketers and advertisers have told them to eat? It’s true. These places exist!

In my quest to discover alternatives to the standard American breakfast, I asked questions of five people who spent the majority of their lives elsewhere–Bosnia, China, the Dominican Republic, Hong Kong, and Sweden–before moving to the States. My small study reinforced some of what I already suspected: other countries pace their meals, use less sugar than we do (especially at breakfast), and, for the most part, prioritize lunch.

Some of what I learned surprised me: there’s no fear of bread or dairy or meat or even sugar, as long as it comes naturally from fruit. Eggs seem a-okay, too, though I suspect they were from local farms, not massive operations. Some of what I learned harked back to things I’ve heard along the way: breakfast and lunch, not dinner, should be the bigger meals so your body has time to digest before going to sleep. There’s also a general antipathy toward cold water. (I had first heard this from my host mother during my study abroad in Spain, who told me that a king returned home from war, drank cold water, and dropped dead. Apparently, the country stopped drinking cold water after that.)

Overall, the international approach to breakfast seemed to be exactly what many American marketers and processed food companies have long been hawking but not necessarily delivering: balance. The traditional breakfasts can knock out several food groups in the pyramid without overdoing any of them. They trend toward savory or, at the very least, not sweet. They are designed to be savored at a table and not in the car or walking to work. They certainly aren’t meant to be ignored altogether.

How can we bring a little bit of the balance and tradition home? Read on.


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Be a Person Who Eats Salad at Home: The Vegend’s Mustard Dressing

My family sat down to dinner together almost every night when I was growing up. The food was always homemade and always bountiful–usually a meat dish, a potato, and some sort of steamed vegetable concoction from frozen food giant Birdseye. We lacked for nothing, except for one thing: salad.

We just didn’t have it.

Despite my mother’s attempts to serve up healthful and “cancer-fighting” foods like steamed Brussels sprouts, she never once put salad on the table. It’s not that she didn’t eat it–at restaurants, she’d have the blue cheese-slathered wedge salad that was de rigueur–she just didn’t serve it at home.

So I grew up thinking that salads were for restaurants, where they could source oodles of toppings–potatoes, fruit, beans, cheese, nuts–at scale, and where things like arugula, kale, baby spinach, and frisee were in the hands of specially-trained chefs.

I carried the no-salad-at-home tradition into adulthood until I met the Vegend, whose at-home salad skills far surpass any human’s. His base is almost always arugula, which can last quite a while in the fridge. (Plus, just before it’s gone bad, he whips it into unbeatable pesto.) His typical toppings include farro, roasted peppers, tomatoes, corn, chickpeas, and avocado. Hard boiled eggs, butternut squash, potatoes, and string beans also join in on the fun.

He tops off the salad with a mustardy dressing that’s so good you’ll want to dip it, spread it, and pour it onto everything you’ve got. We’ve described it here.
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Valentine’s Day Results: When Life Gives You Carrots, Make Carrots Four Ways

It happened! Our second annual Valentine’s Day challenge. If you’ve read our previous post you’ll know that last year, the Vegend and I started a Valentine’s Day tradition that is more creative and less expensive than any restaurant meal we could have.

The simple premise–I determine which ingredient he should use and he determines mine–has forced us to push the boundaries of our usual (delicious) meals, be thoughtful in our execution, and try new things. I’m here to tell you that last night’s results were astounding. So astounding, in fact, that I ate a good portion more while I was cleaning up. Now, that’s the sign of a good meal.

I had challenged the Vegend to use carrots in our main course and boy, did he deliver. He presented carrots four ways and each way was a nod to something we’ve eaten or cooked before. First up, he pickled carrots in rice wine vinegar, ginger, shallot, honey, and salt, a delicious trick we had first seen at Brooklyn Grange’s Veggiepalooza 2017 but had not yet tried. A quick toss in sesame oil, carrot greens, and scallions provided a tasty and colorful start to the main meal.

The main dish was mind-blowing. Three more ways of carrots, each distinct from each other and, if I’m being honest, a party in my mouth. The sweet roasted carrots with homemade chimichurri (cilantro, parsley, shallot, jalapeno, red wine vinegar, salt, and olive oil) made me want to slather chimichurri on everything. Everything! I didn’t even know I liked chimichurri!

The carrots with yogurt sauce (Greek yogurt, lemon juice, olive oil, lemon zest, carrot greens, scallions, roasted cashews, and salt) were inspired by Canoe Hill in Millbrook, NY, whose own carrot-yogurt-cumin combination wowed us just a few weeks ago.
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Steal This Valentine’s Day Idea

Eggplant and Cherries

I’m going to be real with you: the Vegend was my first (and now only) Valentine. Any previous “relationship” somehow started directly after the day and certainly didn’t last until the next one. I stormed the theater with a group of ladies to see He’s Just Not That Into You on V-Day 2009 and considered doing the same, solo, for 50 Shades of Grey in 2015. A typical February 14th had me silently cursing flower delivery guys for reminding me of my status. I know it wasn’t their fault; I never did respond to their catcalls.

But then the Vegend arrived.

After we moved in together, our date nights dwindled to appropriate levels–we were building a life together, after all, and that requires budgeting. So when Valentine’s Day came around and restaurant markups reared their heads, we decided to take a suggestion from my mother instead: “Why don’t you do a Chopped thing? You know, where they’re given the ingredients and have to come up with a dish?” This may be the only time the Vegend and I will agree with and accept motherly advice. We began plotting.

The rules were simple: I would give him one ingredient on which to base the main dish. He would give me one on which to base dessert. We’d have a full meal, half surprise, and on a budget. We both picked ingredients that were remarkably out of season–he offered up cherries and I offered eggplant–but we made it work. His creation–skillet eggplant parm (not breaded but still fried-ish)– and mine–upside down cherry cornmeal cake–were both delicious experiments and filled our apartment with wonderful scents. Also, leftovers for days.

Now, with a week left to spare, we challenge you to do the same. Gather your partner, your best friend, or a whole mess of acquaintances and challenge each other to whip up something delicious and homemade. It doesn’t have to look perfect or even taste perfect. It just has to be filled with love.

It goes like this:

    • If it’s two of you, decide who will tackle the main dish and who takes on dessert. The more people, the more parts of a meal you’ll get–amuse bouche, appetizer, soup, intermezzo, entree, dessert, etc.
    • Feel free to draw the ingredients out of a hat or just assign the ingredients to all involved. Each dish should be centered on a single ingredient.
    • Cook like nobody’s watching.
    • Take a photo and tag it with hashtag #iamvegend and we may repost your V-Day meal.*
    • Enjoy!


  • *If you happen to forget to take the photo before digging in, worry not. As long as there’s still food on the plate, we’ll consider your entry.
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Vegan Chicken Soup–A Deliciously Imprecise Approach

Vegan Chicken Soup

One of the biggest gripes about this whole plant-based thing is that food, in many families and in mine, means love. Therefore, when we give something up, it can also feel like we’re also giving up a little bit of the traditions and love that have passed through generations. The thinking’s not wrong–I’ve wrestled with the same feelings–but I do think that we can take the spirit of a dish, bring it up to date, and start the tradition anew.

Even my shtetl-born grandmother, whose American dream was realized with done-well briskets and too much food, was willing to adjust recipes to my ever-changing eating habits. After I gave up red meat, she willingly (I think) used turkey instead of beef for her sweet-and-sour meatballs. I can only wonder what she would have done with tempeh. (Actually, I’m fairly certain she would have said, “Oh, for God’s sake…”)

That an old-world bubbe would adjust to a newer world order said a lot about how much she loved me. It also showed me that traditions can morph and grow depending on the people around you. All is not lost because I no longer eat my grandmother’s meatballs; in fact, I can’t wait to figure out a vegetarian way to recreate them.

The Vegend initially set out to tackle a plant-based version of chicken soup one day last winter. His goal was to soothe my sick self while conjuring up the love and nostalgia we can feel from a pot of homemade soup (part of the healing process, to be sure). He considered the components of traditional chicken soup–chicken, veggies, dill–and how they each contribute to the overall dish. Without chicken, he wondered, what would flavor the soup?

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Meet Sweets Days

Sweets Days

I recently got a request from the Vegend’s mother. She said, “Please stop baking so much! For the Vegend’s sake!” I reminded her, as I often do, that she and I are on the same team: we both want the Vegend to be healthy, to feel good, and to be around for a very long time. I assured her that I am careful with what I bake and that I often “disappear” nearly all treats out of our home under the cover of darkness (or an oversleeping Vegend) so there’s not even a crumb to find.

It also helps that my cravings for sweets have diminished over the years. Where I used to bake to satisfy my own needs (OMG peanut butter chocolate chip cookies), I now typically bake for celebrations, special occasions, or upon request. My cravings reduction is no accident; it is the result of a carefully designed approach that, after years of stops and starts with other methods, finally worked.

Meet Sweets Days.

Sweets Days are the three glorious days of the week in which you can–and should–have some sort of sweet treat, provided that nothing else you’re eating has added sugar (looking at you, drinks and packaged foods). It should only be one treat (don’t go all “kitchen sink sundae” on us) and your Sweets Days shouldn’t be consecutive–mine were Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. The goal is to slowly wean yourself off too much sugar while still allowing for some fun. I’m not a masochist, after all.
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